The chant, "Death to the shah," has been a daily prayer during street rallies in Tehran for the past 18 months. But yesterday, that answered prayer seemed to produce only initial confusion in the Iranian capital.

For more than an hour after world news agencies transmitted word of the shah's death, Tehran radio said nothing. Then came a single statement -- "The bloodsucker of the world has died at last" -- followed by an interlude of music. Streets were reportedly calm.

Around the world, governments and individuals reacted with passion and with caution to the death of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, reflecting the turmoil and controversy aroused by a man whose imperial rule became a symbol of the clash of ideology and culture that stretched far beyond his political domain.

The Carter administration issued a terse statement expressing the president's "personal" sympathy for the shah's family, with no mention of the Iranian's long alliance with the United States. There was no announcement on who, if anyone, will attend the funeral in Cairo for the White House.

Former President Richard Nixon mourned the shah as a friend who died tragically and as "a man without a country." Nixon and his son-in-law, Edward Cox, left New York last night to fly to Cairo to attend funeral services for the shah Tuesday, Cairo's Middle East News Agency reported that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat welcomed Nixon's gesture.

The families of American hostages were reluctant to rejoice at a death or build hopes after so many disappointments. They expressed optimism, however, that the shah's release from illness might hasten the hostages' release from captivity.

Freed hostage Richard Queen told the Associated Press he hopes the event is "an opening leading to the release of the other hostages." However, he was quick to say he did not want to raise expectations.

"To tell you the truth, I don't really know that much about it," he said.

One hostage's father was more confident. "Good! It's over. It's finished. What can they want now? exclaimed Arthur Kupe, a retired Oklahoma farmer whose son Frederick is being held in Iran.

"I don't want you to think I'm a harsh man," Virgil Sickman of Krakow, Mo., father of a hostage Marine Sgt. Rodney Sickman, told The Associated Press, "but maybe now . . . something new will turn up."

Officials in Tehran were quick to discourage those expectations. A spokesman for President Abol Hassan Bani Sadr told the British Broadcasting Corp. that "the death of the former shah will have no effect on the hostage issue."

A leader of the Iranian militant students holding the hostages told French radio, "Our position on the hostage problem does not change with the shah's death. We do not want his corpse. Now we are demanding retribution of his wealth."

Iranian officials maintained a public attitude of indifference and disdain about the death of the former leader. "The burial is not worth discussing," said Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh. "In any case, he was already dead for us."

But the memory of the ruler of the Peacock Throne was vivid for the writers of the official Pars News Agency, who described him in almost biblical terms:

"Behold how history repeats itself: the treacherous shah dies next to the tomb of ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and in the asylum of Sadat in disgrace, misery and vagrancy, in the same state of despair in which the Pharoah and his army were drowned in the sea. How admonitory is history."

In the international community, few spoke ill of the dead ruler. The Soviet Union and China reported the shah's death without comment. West Germany deferred comment. But Sweden, in refusing comment, explained that it was doing so because "the Swedish government has repeatedly disassociated itself from the regime of the shah both during his reign and afterward."

The Independent Republican Party of French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing declared that the shah had "wanted by every means, even the most brutal, to force his people to imitate the West . . . and failed. The world has not finished paying for the shah's miscalculation," it said.

Giscard himself sent a message of condolence to the shah's widow, but the government had no immediate coment.

In Washington, the State Department released a brief statement. "We have been informed that the former shah has died in Ciaro," it said. "The President and Mrs. Carter are sending their personal condolences to the shah's family. At this time of great personal grief for members of the shah's family, they deserve sympathy and an atmosphere of tranquility.

"Ambassador (Alfred) Atherton has been asked to deliver the Carter's condolences. The shah was the leader of Iran for an exceptionally long period of time -- 38 years.

History will record that he led his country at a time when profound changes were taking place. His death marks the end of an era in Iran, which all hope will be followed by peace and tranquility."

Nixon's statement, in contrast to the low-key phrases of the administration, said: For over 30 years the shah was a loyal friend and ally of the United States and a personal friend as well. Tragically, he died a man without a country. Now that his personal ordeal is over, the government of Iran has no excuse whatever for continuing to hold innocent American hostages.

"Mrs. Nixon and I extend our deepest symphathy to empress Farah and his family."

The White House said plans were indefinite on United States representation at the funeral. Spokesman Jody Powell, appearing on "Face the Nation" (CBS, WDVM), said he could not say what level of representation would be considered until more details of the ceremony were known. But State Department spokesman David Passage told the Associated Press he expected Atherton would be the representative.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) told reporters he "would not expect any high government official to go" to the funeral. "All human beings have sympathy with members of the shah's family," he added.

Many prominent American figures voiced their praise for the shah's accomplishments. They included Republican presidential and vice presidential contenders Ronald Regan and George Bush, former ambassador to Iran Richard Helms and two men who played important roles in bringing the ailing shah to the United States in 1979, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller.

"The shah of Iran was a loyal and valued friend of the United States," Regan said in a statement. "His leadership was dedicated to the progress and prosperity of the people of Iran, and his passing reminds us of the importance of remaining true to our friends.

"The shah and the United States were linked in honorable and necessary ways, and he played a pivotal role in regional security for America's vital interests."

Bush, in his statement, called the shah "a stabilizing influence in one of the most volatile areas of the world."

"While his regime was not perfect, it was greatly preferable to the fanatical government of the Ayatollah Khomeini -- a government that continues to hold 52 American hostages," he said.

Helms, who served in Tehran from 1973 to 1976, said that for many Iranians the shah was "first and foremost a patriot who unified the country and never gave up on inch of Iranian territory. Flawed though he may have been, those who revile him should demonstrate that they can create a more civilized, more humane country."

"The shah was a friend of the U.S." Helms said. "He allied his country with us because of his preception of the Iranian geopolitical situation. One should let the passions of time cool before attempting to judge the shah's 38-year rule. It may be that there are more pluses than one now realizes."

Kissinger said the shah was "a good friend of the United States" who "died abandoned by all of his friends" except the Egyptians.

"Our country should remember what he did for us 37 years of his rule," Kissinger said, adding that the shah had helped the United States "militarily" through the sale of oil.

Kissinger said the shah's death robs the hostages' captors of "the last pretext for holding them -- not that any pretext was ever acceptable."